defensive performances of the season, which sandwich a less than stellar performance in Atlanta the previous Saturday when they gave up 28 points and just 24 yards short of 400 that night.
Now there were excuses for those, right? Well, New Orleans, which thanks to beating the Giants Sunday and the Cowboys losing Monday has clinched its first-ever first-round playoff bye, had Reggie Bush. Well, Atlanta had Michael Vick.
But Philadelphia, what did the Eagles have? They lost Donovan McNabb for the season seemingly eons ago.
As it turns out, the Eagles had Jeff Garcia, the 36-year-old quarterback nary another team in the league even wanted as a backup, and who put down a 0.00 QB rating in his last appearance at Texas Stadium (2004). He was the straw that stirred the holiday punch, throwing for 238 yards and running for a back-breaking 43.
Too much for the Cowboys.
So was the Eagles' defense, yep, the same one nearly given up for dead during their stretch of losing five of six games to fall to 5-6. The same one that had given up more than 100 yards rushing in seven consecutive games until beating the Giants last week, and the same one which during that stretch had been scorched for more than 200 yards rushing in four of those games.
The Cowboys, good gracious, they rushed for 83 yards, the second fewest yards of the season. Worse, the leading rusher was Romo. A quarterback! Get out of here. Romo had 42 yards, five more than Julius Jones, who actually was running pretty well in this game, and became the first Cowboys quarterback to lead the team in rushing since Thanksgiving of 2003 when Carter put up, uh, 42 yards against Miami.
But once the Cowboys got behind 16-7, they began playing as if this was Holiday Follies. Let's see, on third-and-19 (because of a sack) from their 29, Terrell Owens drops the first of two passes, this one right in his bread basket at the Philly 25. And the guy had the nerve to say afterward he needs to get involved earlier in the game. Involved? Just shut up and play.
Then in succession the next time the Cowboys get the ball, at the Atlanta 19, Andre Gurode sails a shotgun snap over the head of Romo, who salvaged the play for a six-yard gain; Marc Colombo gets called for a false start; Flozell Adams gets called for a false start; and one play later on third down Romo gets sacked.
Still trailing by just 16-7 at the start of the fourth quarter, having moved to the Eagles' 39 and sensing their defense reeling, the Cowboys go no-huddle and Romo throws deep into the end zone for Owens. The ball was inside. Romo admits it should have been outside Owens.
Still, Owens never locates the pass when the Cowboys were involving him, and Brian Dawkins easily intercepts. If he was a centerfielder, he could have pounded his glove twice before pulling in the can of corn, Owens making no effort to even break up the pass.
And if that were not enough, after the Eagles drove a stake in whatever heart the Cowboys brought to this game, driving 80 yards in seven minutes for a touchdown, Romo throws an ill-advised pass into traffic that was picked off by Lito Sheppard, his third interception against the Cowboys this season - and the third he had to do nothing more than just stand their and catch the ball.
That was no mistletoe hanging from the crossbeams at Texas Stadium.
That was an Eagles hammer hitting them in the kisser.
So is this it? Is this who the Cowboys are in 2006? A team capable of beating only one team (Indianapolis) - for sure - that will finish with a winning record this season? (Tennessee at 8-7 has a chance.)
Is this who the Cowboys are? A team incapable of winning the big one, seeing that you would have to consider this game, the Saints game and those early-season games with the Eagles and Giants big games?
Well, the Cowboys won't know if the New Year's Eve game against Detroit (noon, CST) is a big game or not. It's big for them since a victory will put some pressure on the Eagles. But the Eagles will play for the NFC East title on Fox's 3 p.m. game, while the Cowboys, if they win, will have to sit around and wait. A Cowboys' win and Eagles' loss would bring the seemingly air-mailed NFC East title back to